More than 200 years ago, a boy captured and raised as a warrior by Miami Native Americans went on to marry the daughter of Chief Little Turtle — the namesake of one of Logansport’s trail systems and popular event venue. He then went on to fight alongside the Miami against American troops in President George Washington’s campaign to dispel Native Americans from the area in a battle just up the Eel River in Adamsboro.
When Logansport was celebrating its first year as a city in 1838, members of the Potawatomi tribe were being driven out of their homeland. The U.S. military forced them into a nearly 660-mile journey from northern Indiana to Kansas in what would come to be called the Trail of Death.
The recognition of both of these events and a celebration of Native American culture was held Saturday at Little Turtle Waterway. The afternoon-long event included live drum music, an authentic wigwam and speakers with a wealth of knowledge on Native American history and culture.
Joe Krom was at the waterway with copies of his historical novel, “Heart of a Warrior: The True Saga of Sweet Breeze and William Wells,” which tells the story of how Wells was taken from his family in Louisville, Ky., and raised as a Miami warrior before becoming involved in many diplomatic missions between Native Americans and settlers of the then fledgling United States.
The former high school math teacher from Wabash County called working on the book “a hobby” and that he enjoys attending events like the one at Little Turtle Waterway Saturday because they promote local history.
Krom went on to say he didn’t start out to write a book, but rather to satisfy his own curiosity of Wells, which was sparked during his time at Manchester University in North Manchester.
After acquiring piles of material from libraries and historical societies, he figured he had enough to write a book, but wanted to stray from writing strictly a volume of history and tell Wells’ story in what he felt would be a more interesting way.
“There are a lot of dry history books that sit on the shelf,” he said. “I wanted to tell it as a story.”
Partway through the event, the pounding of several mallets on a large drum thundered across the waterway.
John Dunnagan, vice chief of the Miami Nation of Indiana, stood watching the performance in a shirt known as a regalia, known for its use of ribbons both sewn into the shirt itself and left flowing out of the fabric.
Dunnagan, who lives north of Peru, said that the drum the men played on was not an officially authentic drum, but a close second. The name for the drum translates into “crane drum,” he said, as the crane is the tribe’s totem. Describing it as “the heartbeat of the tribe,” he said authentic Miami drums are blessed and made from elk or buffalo hide with one half of its surface from that of a male and the other half from that of a female.
When the group started adding lyrics to the steady beat, Dunnagan said the Miami often sing about nature, love and honoring women.
Dunnagan said he admires events like the one held at Little Turtle Waterway Saturday for their ability to spread awareness and education about Native Americans.
“The biggest thing is, people don’t realize there are Native Americans around,” he said.
Randall Householder, a Miami Native American, traveled from Greentown to attend the event and contributed to several songs on the drum.
“I wanted to get reconnected,” he said of his reasons for attending the event.
Householder went on to say it was the first time he had been asked to join in on a drum performance, an invitation he called “touching and moving.”
Tom Hickey, a Cherokee who lives in Logansport, attended the event as well. Donned in a red and blue Cherokee regalia who’s ribbons fluttered in the breeze, he greeted visitors near the wigwam he constructed with his brother Todd out of a hickory sapling frame covered in cattails.
Like Dunnagan, he said Native American awareness has been decreasing and that events like the one at Little Turtle Waterway could help turn that around.
“I think it’s wonderful that this is right out our backdoor,” he said.
Closing the event was Fulton County Historian Shirley Willard, who wore a blue Potawatomi dress decorated with flowers as she spoke of the Trail of Death, the forced removal of the Potawatomi from northern Indiana to Kansas in 1838.
Willard, who has compiled a book on the subject that includes journal entries, letters and other primary sources, said she hosts a caravan every five years that follows close to the same route the Potawatomi were forced to take. On Sept. 23, a caravan she’ll be leading will stop in Logansport at the Cass County Historical Society Museum. Willard said she stops several places along the way to speak on the subject.
She said she hopes not only her work in history, but all historians’ work will help contribute toward future generations learning from past mistakes and living among one another harmoniously.
“I feel like if we’ve ever learned anything from history, we should show it,” she said.
Valerie Berkshire, who helped organize the event, said she has always admired Native Americans for their arts, crafts, food and respect for nature.
“Their spiritual life is so fascinating,” she said.
Berkshire went on to say she wished more people had attended, as the event garnered a total of about 30 visitors throughout the day. She said she hopes to see the event continue and with it, an increase in attendance.
“I’d like to look into making it a yearly event,” she said.
Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.